|Posted by Tyler Griffith on February 18, 2014 at 6:00 AM|
When you think of the bands Symphony X, Disturbed, and Twisted Sister, you usually aren't having one cohesive thought. These three bands are so drastically different from one another, it's hard to imagine the members of those bands coming together and functioning. Well, that very feat has been accomplished, and the product is young band Adrenaline Mob. Formed in 2011, this super group has already seen a couple of lineup changes. Now, on their sophomore debut, Men of Honor, we have a slightly different lineup than we saw on Omerta, the band's debut. However, regardless of this change in personnel, the band retains its signature, dirty rock and roll sound that intrigued audiences on the first album. So how does this new album stand in relation to the first one? Let's find out!
"The Mob Is Back"
The opening track of the album, and rightfully so. When fans found out that drummer Mike Portnoy was departing the band, many questioned whether or not the band would be able to find a suitable replacement. Well, from the opening seconds of this track, new drummer AJ Pero, famous as the drummer in Twisted Sister, destroys any lingering doubt that the drums will be a problem for Adrenaline Mob. Coupled with a flashy, explosive guitar demonstration by axeman Mike Orlando, the duo sets the stage for a triplet swing style rock groove. The song's lyrics focus on wanting to get out of a mundane life and getting to a kickass rock and roll show. The chorus triumphantly declares "The mob is back in town!", and it's very clear that The Mob is ready to prove that this band, despite what many people believe, is here to stay. Vocalist Russell Allen (Symphony X) has a powerful, gritty voice that compliments that rawness on display by the band. I would be willing to bet money that this track will be the opening to live shows in the coming months, and it's a great showcase of the entire band.
"Come On Get Up"
One of the first couple of tracks released from the album, "Come On Get Up" reverts back to the straight ahead rhythm that was so prevalent on the previous album. Definitely not a bad thing because the band is still full of energy. The switch in style at the chorus (most notably in Allen's vocal delivery) really shows the reverse side of the song's message. The song is about getting back up after suffering through a tough time or failing to overcome an obstacle. The structure sets up this kind of "good cop, bad cop" routine in which the verses are the bad cop, the chorus is the good cop. In addition to the lyrical contrast, this is also the first instance that bassist John Moyer (Disturbed) gets to showcase his talents on the bass. He is playing some really incredible bass lines throughout the entire song and, moreover, they are fairly audible within the audio mix. I'm glad a band finally turned their bassist up. Moyer definitely has the chops and needs to be heard.
If you know anything about Adrenaline Mob, you know that their imagery is heavily influenced by the idea of the mob and the mafia. "Dearly Departed" is the first time on the album in which the imagery starts to influence the playing of the band. No, this song doesn't explicitly depict or reference the mafia, but this idea of family and brotherhood that is so ubiquitous within the mafia mindset is a central theme of this song (plus, a couple mob-related lines, such as "singing like a bird" and "dirty rat", are present). I really, really enjoy hearing Allen's clean, soaring vocals because they are so distinctive and essential to his sound. He lets his emotion carry the vocals through this song, and his higher range is on display more than the gritty growls we have heard over the past two tracks. As you will see, the motif of loss plays a key part throughout this entire album, and "Dearly Departed" is our first real taste of the loss that the band is describing.
"Behind These Eyes"
Something that stood out as a pleasant surprise to me on the first album was the couple of ballads that made their way onto the record. Ballads aren't usually my favorite types of songs, but when done correctly, they function as a way for the band to expand their musical reach and showcase their ability to captivate the listener in a different way than one would expect. So as we get to the first ballad on the album, how does it work? Well, to begin with, it really exemplifies just how intuitive and talented of a guitarist that Orlando is. Anyone can practice enough and shred on the guitar; it takes a true composer to pick up an acoustic guitar and pick out a beautiful, flowing guitar line. Orlando plays one of the more beautiful guitar parts that I have heard in a long while. Coupled with the vocal harmonies of Allen, this track is really uplifting and thoughtful. This track works almost as the internal thoughts of "Dearly Departed"; while "Dearly Departed" was angry at loss, "Behind These Eyes" talks about the pain felt by loss. Having these two tracks paired together on the album really works well.
"Let It Go"
Alright, time to kick the album back up a few notches. Starting with a synchronized melody between Orlando and Moyer, the track morphs into a very intriguing staccato rhythm on the guitar. Allen switches off again between his growl and his howl, although the difference isn't as great on this track. Whether it was intentional or not, Adrenaline Mob created a vignette within their album over the past few tracks, which all take on the same concept of loss from different perspectives. This track completes this "mini-saga" of songs, which started with "Dearly Departed". It's time to move on away from the loss. The band has really slowed down in terms of tempo over the past few songs, but they ramp up the speed near the end of the track as Orlando and Pero seem to be vying for dominance in the frantic solo section. Orlando's playing has become signature over the course of these two Adrenaline Mob albums, yet I never get tired of hearing how he is going to destroy the fret board. Many casual listeners will assume he is just flailing around on the fret board, but if you listen closely, his solos are precise and measured. He brings order to chaos, and that is incredibly evident on this track.
"Feel The Adrenaline"
The first word of the band's namesake makes an appearance on this song, and it feels very much in the vein of "Mob Is Back". The speed kicks way up, and the song starts with a quick E-String riff by Orlando that, much to my joy, is paralleled on Moyer's bass. Seriously, Moyer's bass sounds fantastic in the mix, and he's playing at the height of his skills on many of these songs. The fact that his playing is actually able to be heard is phenomenal. The song as a whole takes a drastic departure from the themes of the previous songs and, instead, opts for a simplistic approach. This is a high octane, heavy metal song, and the band is going to play accordingly. And then (after another blistering solo by Orlando), the band throws the listener another curveball and slows way, way down. Allen really digs deep for his nastiest, grittiest vocal tone yet. I almost can't tell if he is singing about a car or a woman (hell, maybe both). And then, the song picks up with a maniacal bass line. I cannot wait for this song to be played live because the crowd is going to lose their minds at Moyer's incredible bass playing. Well done, sir.
"Men of Honor"
The title track of the album brings in more of the mafia mentality that we first heard on "Dearly Departed". This time, the track opens with a clean (slightly distorted?) guitar riff that reminds me a little bit of Coheed & Cambria. And then, after the sweet introduction, the distortion and anger kicks in again. Allen is angry, and this track emphasizes this emotion that one feels when they experience loss. I've mentioned it in a couple of other songs, but this probably the biggest contrast in Allen's vocal delivery to this point: his growls snarl harder and his howls soar higher and cleaner than anything else on the album. Meanwhile, Pero is discreetly adding some intricate drumming behind the entire band in contrast to the bombastic display of talent we heard on the first song. And yet again, we have Moyer matching Orlando during sections of the verses and choruses. We all knew that Orlando and Allen would standout on this album, but Moyer is, song by song, transforming into an unexpected MVP of the band and the creation of their sound.
Our second ballad on the album, "Crystal Clear" picks up where "Behind These Eyes" left off. The lyrics are introspective, struggling to find out the source of this pain that has permeated over the entire album. Allen can do pretty much anything vocally, but I especially enjoy hearing him in this acoustic setting just to see how his powerful vocals translate to a new environment. He doesn't lose a bit of vocal presence despite singer with less aggression. Orlando is playing entirely on an acoustic guitar, and his solo is absolutely mesmerizing. The fact that the band can transition so seamlessly to a stripped down setting is impressive because neither their talent nor their musical intuition suffer when all the effects are taken away. And, not surprisingly at this point, because Orlando is playing primarily acoustic chords and rhythm patterns, MVP Moyer uses his bass almost like a guitar, interspersing thoughtful and tasteful melodies throughout.
"House of Lies"
You thought the anger was gone? "Crystal Clear" seemed to be an emotional turning point? Think again. "House of Lies" was actually a little jarring for me at first because it was so unexpected at this point in the album. The lyrics especially had me turning my head a bit: "Excite me, invite me, your moves they hypnotize me. I wanna fuck you til you scream my name out loud". Damn. In the bigger picture, this song isn't too out of character for the band, but it's positioning on the album surprised me more than anything. This is Adrenaline Mob being carnal, raw, and unrelenting. It's also coming to the revelation of all the lies and betrayal that has been the source of pain and loss discussed so in depthly throughout the album. Because of this, I'm not surprised that the guitar solo is intricate, frenzied, and quick to begin and end. Orlando is great at making his listeners want more, and he does it again here.
Another moment in which having the bass turned up to audible levels is a great choice. The bass line, coupled with the intro riff by Orlando, has this almost mechanical, metallic feel to it. The texture of the sound is one that isn't heard very often, but it's a good combination of guitar and bass. Allen comes in with some vocals that are more boomy than normal. Allen switches through a myriad of different vocal styles and deliveries (sometimes on the same song), so it shouldn't be a surprise that he does it again on this track. What is odd is that we haven't really heard this exact timbre of his voice before. Also, in the middle, just before the solo, he puts his voice through this strange vocal effect that makes him sound demonic. It's a cool effect, but it almost detracts from his normal vocals because his normal vocals are so powerful and varied. Regardless, it's just a momentary effect, and it doesn't persist over the album. Some of the spoken words are a bit muffled, which is strange for Allen, who is normally spot on with enunciation. Even still, despite demon Russell Allen, the song feels like a natural, more contained continuation of "House of Lies"
"Fallin' To Pieces"
The album concludes on ballad #3. Allen adds a hint of blues to his voice, especially during the verses. This song feels like a natural conclusion to the thematic story that the band has told throughout the album. The material for the album has dealt heavily with loss, pain, and anger, and "Fallin' To Pieces" points out that sometimes, after all the negativity, the optimal solution is to quit. Yet in spite of the literal words, the atmosphere of the song feels like one of hope and perseverance. Especially near the end of the song, directly following the solo, the sound strips down to just Orlando (on an acoustic guitar) and Allen singing behind…finger snaps? There is definitely some blues influence in this song, albeit not readily apparent. And, in contrast to the orotund beginning to the album, "Fallin' To Pieces" ends on a fade out. I'm normally not a fan of fade outs, but this one, for whatever reason, feels like the logical way to end this song. Of the three ballads, I don't think that this is the strongest. However, it functions well as a closing song on the album. Had it occurred in the middle of the album, it would most likely be forgettable. But because it is the conclusion to the story the band is telling, it becomes a vital piece to the story.
Men of Honor takes the energy and potential that Omerta had and refines it into something more structured and more focused. I loved the debut album, don't get me wrong; I thought it was a brilliant entrance into the heavy metal community. But after listening to Men of Honor, I realize that there were pieces missing off of the debut that are present here. The biggest addition is the influence of John Moyer. Having Mike Orlando man the bass duties on the first album was fine, but it was more of a stop gap than anything. The band needed that crucial fourth piece to complete the sound, and Moyer shines on Men of Honor. In addition, adding AJ Pero into the mix after the untimely departure of Mike Portnoy was a fantastic move on the band's part. And, of course, the composition of the music and album structure has matured fantastically. The album feels more cohesive than the previous effort and flows through central thematic elements expertly. This album shows a band growing and enhancing their craft.
I happened to find Adrenaline Mob as I was browsing the internet a couple years back. The first song I heard from them, "Psychosane", immediately got me hooked on the band. When I saw them live, they put on an incredibly entertaining and ferocious live performance. I've read a lot of negative press about this band, and I can't quite figure out where it's coming from. A lot of people complain that the band doesn't sound enough like Symphony X, to which I say they are correct. This band isn't Symphony X. This band isn't Disturbed. This band isn't Dream Theater or Twisted Sister. It's Adrenaline Mob. While the members of the band exercise other creative outlets in their other bands, they aren't coming together in Adrenaline Mob to recreate or emulate another band. They are here to be Adrenaline Mob. And Adrenaline Mob is so vastly different than anything the members have put out. The band members are all incredibly talented; the fact that they can create the sound that Adrenaline Mob has is a testament to that. As the first song declares, the Mob is back. And now that they're back, they're better than ever.
Verdict: A more focused effort, Men of Honor picks up where Omerta left off, delivering a variety of intense heavy metal as well as slower, more acoustically driven songs. Continued standout performances from Russell Allen and Mike Orlando, as well as the inclusion of John Moyer and AJ Pero, make this a step up from an already successful debut album. 9/10
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