Top 10 Albums of 2017 – Will Baker

It sure has been a while since I have written anything but I am glad to be back for this one! This has been a year of ups and downs in the music industry. Lots of amazing music coming out, brand new bands making their way through the ranks, and some unfortunate tragedies as well. I sat down and listened to EVERY album that caught my attention this year and decided to list off my top 10 favorites so, enjoy!

10. Something Clever – Season of Light
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This album was the very first review I did this year and I still find myself sitting in my car and doing the ole’ chicken neck to every single song. This album was an amazing pleasure to listen to and to buy.

9. Nickelback – Feed the Machine
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I know some people may give me some grief for this but let’s think this through shall we? A lot of people don’t know that this group generally plays in a lower tuning like B. Now, yes, they made headlines due to having a war of words with Corey Taylor (Slipknot/Stone Sour) but in my opinion, this album is a beautiful blend of their old and new sound. Please, keep your foot to yourself. Speaking of Stone Sour…

8. Stone Sour – Hydrograd
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Corey Taylor definitely threw in some of his best vocal work I’ve ever heard from him. Yes, he can scream and all that mess but let’s face it, it isn’t about how high you can sing or how low you can growl, it is about the technique, structure of the song, and design. Bravo, sir. My hats off to you.

7. Nephilym – Nephilym
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This group of guys have loads of talent and know exactly where to hit it at the musical heartstrings. The album is up and down with emotions and the images portrayed….WAKE UP, MAN! Yes, the imagery is that great.

6. Ded – Mis-An-Thrope
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These guys seemed to have come out of nowhere, bringing to life the catchy polyrhythms like old Linkin Park and similar sounds to Motionless in White. Keep it going guys, Fred Durst definitely steered you guys in the proper direction. I truly believe they are bringing back the rap/rock genre of the industry, hands down.

5. Hell or Highwater – Vista
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I have always been a huge fan of Atreyu so when I heard Brandon Saller (drummer for Atreyu) singing, I was immediately a fan; however, their album material doesn’t describe the energy that they have when playing a live show. An absolute must see.

I would like to note that some new albums are on their way out!
Asking Alexandria, Story of the Year, and Breaking Benjamin will have new albums out soon!
Now, back to the good stuff…

4. While She Sleeps – You Are We
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Expressive, tormenting, and well thought out, this album possesses the makings of every emotion known to mankind. I’ve had this album since it came out and it gets better every time that I hear it. I especially love the track, “Silence Speaks” featuring Oli Sykes of Bring Me The Horizon.

3. Thrice – To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere
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These guys came back with some powerful tunes and it just seems like it comes natural. I remember listening to an interview they did about the song “Black Honey” and it was all inspired by a dream. Amazing.

2. Starset – Vessels
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This album definitely brings out the rock prowess that they have. Edging out his personal experiences and masterfully welding them with the Starset Community, I always find myself closing my eyes and feeling the gravity of each song pull me, tugging the strings of existence.

1. Nothing More – The Stories We Tell Ourselves
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These guys definitely outdid themselves with this album. Jonny Hawkins really put his vocals on the line with this album. The whole album is an epic story of today’s society and what we believe that we shouldn’t. The electronic influences mixed with strong riffs and well-thought drums and of course, those bass lines really pump the songs through.

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Check out Billboard Breakout Artist: Vajra

Enter: Vajra. For those of you who have yet to discover this band, it is time to open your ears up and fill them with their music. Vajra’s music is a tapestry of hauntingly dark and hypnotic, melodic, progressive, foreboding and mysterious lullabies.

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Vajra was formed by composer, singer and multi-instrumentalist, Annamaria Pinna during her self-imposed exile in India. The child of a former monk and school teacher, Annamaria was encouraged to learn about the world around her and to question her assumptions. She believes there is divinity in creativity. Annamaria has a neurological condition called synesthesia, where she attaches color and shapes to sound.

I recently had the unique opportunity to talk with Annamaria about her band, touring, and upcoming projects!

A-P: Hello! For those who don’t know Vajra, could you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about the band name?

Annamaria: My name is Annamaria and I am the creator of the band Vajra. Vajra is a Hindu and Tibetan Buddhist (Dorje) symbol for the thunderbolt or the diamond.  It is that which breaks through anything.  It is the unbreakable or indestructible force that permeates all things-the ultimate truth of the universe. I had a powerful dream about this energy and later when I was brainstorming names for the band, the word kept resurfacing. I surrendered to it, and so it is.

You have worked with some pretty big names! Blake Flemming (ex-The Mars Volta), Sylvia Massy (Tool, System of a Down, Prince, Johnny Cash), and Tom Baker (NIN, Foo Fighters, Ministry Prince). Tell us what the experience was like and how much it has helped you develop as an artist.

Each experience was similar in that I was super thrilled to work with them because I respect their what each of them does tremendously. At times, I was a bit intimidated, but I had to stop myself from traveling down that path by just focusing on the music. Blake is a friend so it was both inspiring and fun to work with him.  I love his choices (musically) and he is such an awesome dude.  When I left Sylvia’s studio, I was overcome with emotion, and I didn’t want to leave.  I had made a new friend, and we connected on that music level that only musicians can truly understand.  Also, at that time, I was realizing that this was happening that the music I had heard and translated from the ether was now here in this physical world.  It was something I had wanted to do since I was a child.  So, part of the emotion I felt was also the acknowledgment of a dream come true. Tom was awesome!  He is like the mad scientist tinkering with buttons that made it all sound even better.  He had all these gold records on the wall in his studio and I couldn’t believe I was there. Working with each of them has challenged me to go deeper into my craft.  They continue to inspire me today.

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You have an upcoming EP, “Irkalla,” part 1 of The Trilogy Series. What is the story behind this series and is there a release date for “Irkalla?”

Irkalla is the Sumerian word for Underworld.  We wanted to release an album but then I thought maybe we will do an EP.  And then I kept getting signs telling me to do 3 related eps, and hence, the Trilogy Series was born.  Each EP and possibly each single will be released on an auspicious day that is a derivative of 3 (numerology).  Each EP will consist of 3 songs and 3 interludes and possibly a bonus track.  Each piece of music will have a video component and after the release of the 3rd EP, we will release all the music and all the videos into one movie.  The music and the videos will dictate how the movie turns out.  It will tell us what it is.

No release date yet.  We keep getting shows to perform and so the time we can spend on the new music dwindles.  We are close though.

For Vajra fans, they enter “The Temple.” How did that come about and what is the meaning of “The Temple?”

I wanted to create the sense of community where our fans can gather.  The best thing would be for The Temple to inspire one to dig deeper into their own lives and to do whatever it is she or he is gifted to do.

You have a neurological condition called Synesthesia, where you attach colors and shapes to sound. What have been the positive and negative aspects in how it has been applied to your music?

For me, it’s positive because it helps to physically express what I hear when I write.  There is a visual component to the music.  One negative aspect is that when I explain something to my guys and say something sounds yellow or I demonstrate the shape of what I hear, they look at me like I’m crazy. So I have to remind myself to explain musically as well.  The communication is different with everyone. 

You are on tour right now and are soon to be headed to Sweden! What has been the best experience on this tour? Of all the tours, which place has been your favorite to perform?

Yeah, we can’t wait for Sweden!  We’ve been heading out on long weekends after our To The Ends of The Earth Tour in March/April to the West Coast and back.  We had 29 shows in 32 days.  It was exhausting but incredible.  I love touring.  Home is where you make it.  I love seeing new places and meeting new people and experiencing different subcultures. 

Some of the best experiences are, of course, great shows with large, receptive audiences but also playing great rooms like Viper Room in LA and The Chance in Poughkeepsie.  Thinking of the musicians that have performed on those stages where my feet we planted was exhilarating.  Also, the fans make the shows great.  We had one fan travel to a few shows on the tour, gifted us some vino with a beautiful card that said we inspired her to follow her dreams.  And another fan who made us individual jewel trees under the moonlight and presented them in labeled silver sparkle boxes because she wanted to thank us for inspiring her.  These are beautiful moments that I will never forget.  

I can’t say that I have a favorite place to perform.   Favorites are tough for me. There are different things that I like/dislike about most places.

Lastly, I have to say I have become a huge fan, even joining “The Temple” myself. Is there anything you would like to say to aspiring artists looking to get to where you are at now? 

Thank you so much!

Take some time to challenge your assumptions and to discover or rediscover who you are and how you want to spend your time here in the awareness of who you are.  And when you know, do it!  Focus on that truth.  Don’t let distractions or people stop you from being who you really are. And be!


Make sure you check out Vajra on their upcoming tour that makes its way from the US all the way to Sweden! For more info, visit http://www.thevajratemple.com/

Nephilym – Could Have Been

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Nephilym has been playing in NC for over 10 years (2001) and, just like any other band that has been together for a considerable length of time, band members have changed throughout the years. Bassist Bobby Byford and Guitarist Josh Smith are the 2 founding members of the band lead by vocalist Brent Underwood (Dead by Dawn, Messenger of Hope, Drayton Road) and Will Driver (Prodical Son/Forever July, East River Snorkeling, Memphis Witch) on drums. I came across these guys in 2004 with their song “Zombie” and was extremely impressed. Once again, I am taken back with their latest single, “Could Have Been.”

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Brent’s voice has touches of Aaron Lewis (Staind), Chris Daughtry (Daughtry), and older Rich Luzzi (Rev Theory). The beginning of the song starts out with a simple strum of an acoustic guitar and Brent softly singing, then the bass comes in with a smooth, silky line that can soothe even the harshest of days. The drums are easy going with soft kicks and rim shots. Going into the chorus, which reminds me of the song “Rain” by Creed, the song just lets loose with its eloquent dark chords. The lyrics, “…then it all just feels the same…” hit perfectly, giving you goosebumps with those ear-friendly overtones, and nicely hit falsettos. Leading back to the verse, the heart calms down. The next chorus seems to pick up at the end as it heads into the bridge. “Could you please just go before my heart calls you back home…” just rings throughout as the message, piercing through the ice left in the wake of the destruction caused by this person. Brent comes back in with some vengeance and prowess as guitar solo kicks in the background for just a moment, taking it to that climaxing point where the emphasis focuses once again on the bridge lyrics. The song ends as softly as it began, never leaving a crumb of doubt that it has touched you not only in your soul.

The meaning of this song is all in the title. Anything and everything that “Could Have Been,” respectively, is no longer there. The only thing left is the memory of the pain and heartache. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, rock stars do have a soft heart as well, it isn’t about mosh pits and body limbs all the time.

Don’t forget to check out the video that was released TODAY for “Could Have Been” and snag a copy of the new single at all your major digital sources.

 

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Faces Behind the Music: Snake Harris Studios

For this new and inspiring series, I wanted to start with a studio that I personally have recorded in. I can say that I came out as a better musician and had a better vision for what I wanted from my music after recording with Jacob of Snake Harris Studios. His professionalism as well as his production mentorship extends well beyond the superficial boundaries and inspires others to really step up their game and go to the next level. I recently had the amazing opportunity to sit and talk with Jacob and have him really tell you his side.

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What’s up!? It’s been quite a while since we met up! Would you please introduce yourself, your studio, and tell the audience a little about what you do?

Hey! I’m Jacob and I run a little place called Snake Harris Studios. I try to help musicians find the path to their next level with their music. Pre-production, recording the tracks, and mixing are where my talents pull musicians together to find their strengths and weaknesses and to build on them. 

When did it occur to you to really start and how did you decide on a name?

I never really had a time that I began, more that I just fell into it. I picked up recording and mixing in mid-late 2000’s to help my band get our pre-production and demos accomplished. I ended up recording other bands and friends in the same rehearsal buildings we frequented. This eventually turned gave me enough experience and skill to do audio engineering more regularly. 

Everyone used to always jokingly call me Jake the Snake, as in the old pro wrestler. It just got used around me so much that the snake part stuck and everyone started calling me Snake…I know ridiculous. So, I just combined that with part of my middle name and voila, Snake Harris Studios. 

What has been your greatest accomplishment with your studio?

Probably working with a band called Lionized (now Parties with Strangers). Those guys have a lot of ideas all in their heads and can get a little hectic when in the studio has so much going on. It was a fun experience working with them to bring to life what they had envisioned. Their first Ep called Primal came out fantastic and better than either them or I expected. Lots of noisy effects and guitar duality going on which made for a difficult time to find the right tones and placement in the stereo image of the mix. I needed to let them breathe and be heard without masking other focuses in the song or other instruments. Their singer Tyler has a crazy aggressive voice and it made for a surprisingly easier time than I expected for vocals. Overall it was a great experience working with those dudes. 

If there’s a band, any band that you could record an album for, who would it be and why?

Queen. It would be an awe-inspiring experience to see legendary musicians of their caliber perform some amazing rock. I can only imagine it would just be a fun process focused on capturing the sound of amazing musicians and song writers. That or Mastodon! 

Tell us, what kind of equipment do you use?

My ears and experience. These days anyone with a computer and some basic software can record and have it sound decent. I am an audio engineer and my job is to know how to get the sound. I like to keep it simple and stripped down gear wise and focus on controlling the sound in the room and work to get the best out of the musician’s performance. Those two things count more than any piece of gear ever will. There’s always gear you can rent and other studios you can book time in to use the “Big Boy” gear when it is necessary, if at all. The musician needs to be on top of their game and that’s where pre-production and repetition is an often-overlooked aspect of making your studio experience what you expect and more! My job is to pick the right room and right pieces of gear that is needed for that moment, and that is always changing. 

 

Where can artists find more information on your studio such as rates and product samples?

https://www.facebook.com/SnakeHarrisStudios/
https://soundcloud.com/snakeharris

Give us one last bit of advice!

Recording is supposed to be fun and exciting. It can be the most rewarding experience and to achieve that I could not stress enough proper pre-production. Take your time to make sure your music is refined and practiced well before studio time. For those who are not sure how to go about that or may not have adequate means to do this, I do offer services for this as I can be mobile and come to you. My other recommendation is to always try to meet your audio engineer before studio time. Get to know who you are working with and make sure you will feel comfortable working with them, whomever it ends up being. 

Thanks for reaching out to me Will, I much enjoyed the chance to tell everyone a little about my side of the console. Cheers!

 

Exclusive Interview – Shadows of Deceit

I would like to introduce everyone’s earhole and melted faces to the well-known group called Shadows of Deceit. These guys are gaining steam and they are charging through barriers and no one can stop them. With their sound giving hints evident of Killswitch Engage and All That Remains, they still separate themselves with their unique style of vocals and guitar work. Don’t worry, the drums will keep your head and neck busy. I have yet to personally meet the entire group but I have spoken on many occasions with their singer, Scott Adams.

We have become good friends, talking at least two to three times a week. I can tell you that he is the epitome of a front man and as a representation of the group, I can only assume that the other members are just as self-effacing. I had a chance to speak with Scott and ask him some questions to gather some info for their ever growing fanbase.

Hey guys, thanks a bunch for talking to us! Would you please introduce yourselves and tell us a little bit about your band?

Scott: “On drums, J.T. Stroud, on lead guitar is Patrick Lewis, on rhythm guitar, is Cody Richardson, and lastly on vocals is Scott Adams. We just brought on Chris McBride on as our new bassist. Loving the heavy sound, our influences have meshed together to create a sound we believe the scene needs right now: “Metalcore.” Although we like to think of it as metal. We believe that life itself is a mixture of brutality and beauty and aim to portray that in our music.” 

 How did Shadows of Deceit form and how did the group’s name come about?

Scott: The band was formed in 2011 as Cast into Shadows by a group of guys and fronted by Donnie Harris. The band went through changes in line-up through the years adding J.T. to the mix first, then Patrick. It was at that point that the sound changed to a heavier vibe and the name was changed to Shadows of Deceit. People come and people go, that’s when Cody joined the band. Donnie and Shadows parted ways at the end of 2016 leaving the band without a singer. Fate stepped in I was able to audition for the band. I was nervous but have always wanted a project like this. Coming from a background of hard rock gave me the advantage of really stepping up the clean vocals and it just clicked right away.”

Who are some of the bands that Shadows of Deceit have shared the stage with?

Scott: “We have had the pleasure of sharing the stage with some great bands from the area like Auxilia, Kairos, Annabel Lee, Guerilla Fist, Black Ritual, Gruzer, and Wretched just to name a few. These are only the bands we have shared the bill with since I have been in the band. The band Shadows of Deceit itself has a history with some great musicians and the list is long.”

 Your song, Freefall, from the heavily anticipated EP, Krakatoa, was just released along with an amazing lyric video! Could you tell us what it’s about?

Scott: “This song is about witnessing the loss of innocence. Watching as someone’s cloud-9 is destroyed by society and they begin to freefall to reality, the shame we all must face as the world rears its ugly head, showing us that nothing lasts forever, not even our dreams. We can all relate to this experience as we all have felt it. We are just bringing it to the forefront and expressing the distaste for society’s influence.”

What can we expect from the band in the coming months leading up to the release of Krakatoa?

Scott: “You can expect lots of shows and teasers as we finish up recording the EP. We are now out in force with a brand-new logo, new artwork, and new music. There’s also going to be a guest vocal appearance on the EP, who shall remain nameless for now.” 

Where would you like to see the band at this time next year?

Scott: “Our goal is to play tons of shows and get the EP out to as many ears as possible. In a year’s time, we would love to be playing with national acts as well as the best local and regional bands around. We want Shadows of Deceit to be a name everyone recognizes.”

Where can fans find news and other exciting material for Shadows of Deceit?

www.facebook.com/shadowsofdeceit

You have got to check out their single “Freefall” in the form of their lyric video below. You will not be disappointed! Visit their page, show them some love, and stay tuned because we will release their album review once Krakatoa comes to light!

Funeral for the Masses – Pitch Black (Album Review)

Calling all fans of Lamb of God and Unearth, I present you with a gift from the Deathcore/Deathmetal/Metalcore gods: Funeral for the Masses. This group is paving the way for alike artists across the globe all the way from Oulu, Finland. This 6-song EP named, Pitch Black, is nothing short of a shot of greatness to the brain. I reached all the way back to pull albums from my super heavy, hardcore/metalcore days, frequently reminiscing the fun times of being that skinny guy getting tossed like a rag doll in massive mosh pits.

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Once I clicked on their first track, Death Sentence, I was immediately consumed by the mysterious feel of the guitar intro. That is until you hear that first breath and that scream just resonates in the room as the halftime feel pulls you to your feet just to get you throwing fists as the insane double bass kicks in. “WE WON’T SURRENDER!” just stands out to me as a call to action, for people to rise against the corrupt that erodes this society, with politicians being the focal point. The next track titled

The next track titled F.F.T.M. is well, yes you guessed correctly, Funeral for the Masses, and does it ever serve its purpose.  To me, this piece feels like an anthem to the dubbed “masses.” There is nowhere in this song for you to “take 5.” The entire song, it’s like watching this blank canvas being painted in various shades of black, portraying a darker side.

Blinded Eyes is one heck of a song. I consider this my second favorite song simply because it is in your face, it tells you how it is and leaves you wondering what happened in the last four minutes. The message I get from this song is how someone is betrayed or taken advantage of and the penalty for this perpetrator is to be dealt with in a violent manner.

The next track, Pitch Black¸ while serving as the album title, also serves as my personal favorite as they show off every bit of how one would feel in a cold, lonely world when nothing ever goes right. The clean guitars with their creepy echo will give you goosebumps and make you look over your shoulder as the crippling, heavy riffs will nearly snap your neck from the consistent head banging.

Delusions is just in your face, smack you around, and a demand to pay attention. This song makes me feel like I’m lost in transition, in limbo per se, between reality and some made up reality, hence the title of the song. One thing I hear in this song over the rest is a guitar solo. This solo fits in ever so perfectly, like a single piece of a puzzle.

Lastly, Fallen Idol. This song has some of them groove beats that I absolutely love. To me, this song is making me want more, being the perfect to end the album with. Through every verse and chorus, there are super-hooky vocal polyrhythms, death-defying guitar, bass, and drum rhythms, intertwining like a field of vines, only showing this single rose.

I will have to say that it has been an absolute blast to listen to and really have this album take me back and now that this album is in my car, the rest of this place will hear what brutality truly sounds like.

You can pick up a copy of Pitch Black directly from the guys of Funeral for the Masses on their Facebook page as well as check out more from these dudes in the near future!

Something Clever – Season of Light

 

I haven’t had the extraordinary pleasure of meeting this group hailing from Charlotte, NC, but if their music is any indication of who they are, we are all in for one heck of a ride. With Something Clever’s newly released album, Season of Light, they are headed for places beyond the stars. As a musician, I have found myself looking for local bands to listen to that want “it.” Well, after fully listening to Season of Light, I can personally say that this band is salivating for what is next while they make their way through the ears of this country. With the clean, powerful vocals giving me hints of Adam Gontier (formerly of Three Days Grace, currently of Saint Asonia), and the screams giving way to thoughts of Beartooth and Trivium, the guitars, bass, and drums, completing this epic novel by pushing punk beats, hard rock, and metal riffs, reminding me of AFI, Throw the Fight, and Sent by Ravens.

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Each track has its own story yet still internally connected, never letting go of its endless grip. In the beginning of the opening track, “Snake Oil,” close your eyes and imagine walking into an arena and everything is pitch black. You make your way through the herd of people just as curious as you, wondering what is lurking around the corner. As everyone sits quietly and listens to the announcement, the creepy background chorus singing, “la la la,” until you hear the band join in, exploding with the energy of a thousand atom bombs. After leaving you breathless and tasting the iron from the mosh pit, they calm your heartbeat by introducing you to their softer side with their album titled track, “Season of Light,” filling you with hope, still never letting go; however, don’t let that fool you because they enter back into the realm of heavy rock with their next track, and my personal favorite, “Living Not Existing.

Just when you think they’ve gone heavy, they melt your face with their straight up metal track, “Never Been to Vancouver.” This song will annihilate anything that crosses its path, leaving no trace that anything else ever existed. Slowing down once more, “Break Through” provides a sense of curiosity that keeps you on the edge of the cliff yet holding back. This sound will touch your feelings so prepare yourself. “A Loss for Words” continues the darker side of things, nearly crossing that line where you almost lose control, lifting you up, then bringing you back down to reality as it ends abruptly, like a smack in the face to wake you up. Their middle track, “Daybreak” brings out the inner peace of that literal sunrise, that breath of fresh air, like a new beginning.

The onslaught continues with “You’re Gone.” This song is purely hard rock all the way down to the roots, with the solo bringing a whole new life. The next song literally made me stand up and head bang. Sliding back into their metal side with “Dysphagia,” knocking you on your backside before throwing you into oblivion with their breakdown, also using to end the song. You can feel it lift you up for their next track, “Black Diamonds.” This song opens hard and in your face then pulls back, letting you know who you are inside and out. Oh man, the next song, “Rise,” is the epitome of an anthem, “…we’ll rise again just to take it all.” How could you not want to stand and do exactly that? Amazing.

The next track, “Drown,” is something I can relate to on a personal level. Everyone has times where they feel like they just can’t seem to push forward but somehow, they manage to make it through by following their guiding light. The song gets a bit heavier as it nears the bridge where the solo makes you feel like a dove, flying above the hopelessness, where nothing can touch you. Their final, yet inspiring track, “Still Alive,” gives you the light you’ve been looking for.

The message for the entire album is about never giving up, never think that you are alone because you aren’t. We all have a fire burning inside of us and at times, it may be difficult to find the motivation to keep it lit, but never stop trying, never stop searching.

Make sure you catch Something Clever on their Season of Light tour and give them a big thumbs up on their Facebook.

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