P.O.D. Comes Home With ‘Circles’

Nearly 25 years ago, an upstart California-based nu metal band introduced a brand of rock fusing hip-hop, reggae, punk and metal along with Latin influences of lead singer Sonny Sandoval and longtime band mates Marcos Curiel and Wuv Bernardo. The rockers dropped early hit singles such as “Southtown,” “Alive” and “Youth Of the Nation.”

Fast forward to 2018, and P.O.D. is releasing their tenth studio album and first since The Awakening in 2015. In the trailer for the album, Sandoval talks about how they are inspired to continue to make music by fans who have approached the band about their impact while discussing the vibe on the new tracks.

Circles kicks off with a booming reminder that we’re listening to 25-year veterans of the rock industry. “Rockin’ With the Best” feels like P.O.D. is planting their flag firmly in the ground and staking their claim as the life of the party, ready to take on all newcomers.  One of the best lyrics on this track is also a reminder of the technological advancements of the music industry since P.O.D. debuted in January 1994: “As good as it gets from past to present tense / MP3s on iPhones to tapes in cassette decks.”

“Always Southern California” is a catchy yet laid back tune that doubles as a reflective tribute to the place from which P.O.D. hails.

The title track checks in like an anthem for the streets, blending hip-hop verses with those famous Latin-infused harmonies on the chorus. “Circles” is an account of the vicious cycle of addiction, how pain can be temporarily masked but the high is never enough. “I hear you like the tough love / Then push turns to shove ‘cause / You could be my next buzz / When will it be enough ‘cause / I’m just right here spinning in circles.”

“Panic Attack” is among the headbangers sure to be a favorite for rockheads. Traa Daniels drops a steady bass line before transitioning into a filtered rap thrown down by Sonny Sandoval. This fast paced, heavy song examines what it is like for someone who is going through moments of extreme anxiety, battling to overcome the “50 million voices.”

Another tune that provides additional insight into the state of the industry is “On the Radio,” which asks why rock and roll isn’t played on the radio, even though the band still feels the love from fans everywhere they go. Though this track may not receive a lot of air play, listeners will be cranking it on their stereo systems. Feel good tracks like “Fly Away,” “Domino” and 2017 single “Soundboy Killa” are sprinkled throughout this album. These songs are throwbacks featuring more of the reggae-laced metal for which P.O.D. is best known.

Drummer Wuv Bernardo provides the steady backbone on “Listening For The Silence,” a hard-hitting rocker with a message of how to cut through all the voices of chaos and fear to listen for God in the silence. The bridge reads like a prayer: “When these words fail / Then nothing just might make sense / Are you talking to me? / Are you speaking to me?

P.O.D. solemnly asks what happened to our world and casts a vision for a better world on “Dreaming.” The closer on this 11-track LP speaks to the hopelessness of loneliness, singing with desperation “I just want to go home / It’s as far as I can go / So much more, but nobody knows / I don’t know where else to go / All alone so I just wanna go home.”  Marcos Curiel thrives on the electric guitar on “Home,” while the chorus at the end sounds strikingly familiar to the children who appeared in “Youth of the Nation.”

Overall, Circles is a fun and high-energy album that touches on themes of overcoming addictions, anxiety and loneliness. Longtime fans will appreciate that P.O.D. returns to their latin and SoCal influences as they reflect on the magnitude of what it means to have successfully been a band for a quarter century.

You can find Circles on iTunes and Spotify.

Related Artists: Disciple, Papa Roach, Thousand Foot Krutch



Living Fully: ‘Broken’ by Memphis May Fire

They say that if you’re not changing, you’re dying. It’s a saying that has rarely been more true than when applied to bands’ creative longevity. The challenge for established musical entities is how to change enough to thrive as creatives without leaving their longtime listeners behind. That is exactly the balance Memphis May Fire nails with Broken.

In the seven years since Rise Records debut The Hollow, Memphis May Fire has racked up accolade upon accolade, launching chart-topping singles and dominating the stage on tours like Warped. With the arrival of Broken, Memphis May Fire proves that not only can they climb to the top of the post-hardcore genre– they also have the wisdom and musical chops to innovate in order to stay at the top of that game.

As you can glean from the title, Broken is fueled by weighty themes, diving into the different ways we break (relationally, mentally, emotionally, spiritually) while holding the courage to claim the hope for healing. We caught a glimpse of this already with the lead single “The Old Me,” a moody rocker that longs to return to a time before anxiety and depression clouded daily life. “Sell My Soul” musically swaggers its way through towering guitar riffs from Kellen McGregor as it offers a scathing rejection of anyone who would try and force Memphis May Fire to shut up and sell out. “Heavy is the Weight” reinforces that declaration, incorporating a hip-hop interlude that pairs perfectly with the rhythmic structure of the song.

The frustration of relational betrayal and the dark places it can take us are a centerpiece conversation on this record, beginning with “Who I Am.” The ferocious verses give way to a melodic, confessional chorus: “it’s not fair for me to think you’d understand the darkest part of me is part of who I am.” The theme of exposed flaws ultimately severing a relationship is taken to the next level with “You And Me,” a piercingly poignant ballad sung from the place where two people realize it hurts more to stay than to leave. This track shows Matty Mullins’ prowess as a vocalist, emotional fragility resonating through the pitch perfect melody.

Musically, the band shows a clear progression towards a more melodic sound, but without ever sacrificing a thundering, heart rate raising power. “Over It” is a song fed up with stress, the frustration seemingly spit through grit teeth in the verses. “Fool” rides the steady pulse of Jake Garland’s drums while expressing the anguish of relational abandonment, also serving as one of the few songs that has a really strong presence of screamed vocals on the bridge.

That is the sound progression that is likely to surprise longtime listeners the most: although Broken does utilize the classic MMF rough-cut vocals as accents, it shies away from needing to use screams alone to create emotional intensity and weight. “Mark My Words” screams its way through transitions between verses and choruses, but overall its self-empowerment declaration against the negative forces trying to hold us back relies on tight lyrics and aggression built through instrumentation. The ability to be musically arresting (and heavy) with much less screaming is a tall order, but Memphis May Fire absolutely delivers, proving that they’re not losing momentum for an instant even as they creatively mature.

When all is said and done, the great plot twist of Broken is that yes, we might all be broken– but we’re also so much more than that. “Watch Out” is like a deep breath inhaled, centering in on confidence: “see the tables turn, feel the fire burn / once we get started, there’s no stopping us.” The album ends with “Live Another Day,” a track that summarizes the highs and lows of the songs that come before it while speaking assurance and courage directly to anyone who might be considering ending their life: “we were born to be great, don’t just throw it away / live another day.”

That call to live, no matter the pain (or the healing) it might lead you through, lies at the core of Memphis May Fire’s Broken. It asks a question worth considering: do any of us live fully before we’ve been broken?

You can find Broken on iTunes and Spotify.

Related Artists: Papa Roach, Demon Hunter, Sevendust

Vibrant Duality: ‘The Beast You Feed’ by VERIDIA

“There is a war between two wolves raging inside all of us. The wolf that wins is the wolf you feed.”

This is the Cherokee proverb that serves as the starting place for VERIDIA’s long-awaited debut full length album.

The road to get to The Beast You Feed has often been fraught with challenges and setbacks, a process that guaranteed that the resulting songs would have the intensity that can only be born from struggle. The ten tracks are laid out in two halves, a balanced take on the light and the dark. “The first 5 songs on the album touch on stories of selfishness, anger, a wounded, guarded ‘dark’ perspective,” lead singer Deena Jakoub explains. “The second half shifts to stories of those who brought light into my life when I needed it the most.”

That first half begins with the lead single “Numb,” a dark-edged masterpiece that explores what it feels like to numb our ability to honestly experience the world, aided by an infectious pulsating beat. “Cheshire Smile” and “Feed the Animal” continue to uncover the ways our hearts warp when we isolate them from community and connection, with “Cheshire Smile” talking about the walls we set between ourselves and others and “Feed the Animal” expressing the wounded desperation for love that still exists behind those barriers. “Ghost” sings from the ultimate haunted ground of loneliness.

Musically, this project is the most electronically-focused we have heard from VERIDIA yet. Kyle Levy’s percussion continues to provide the backbone, and Brandon Brown’s guitar work lends texture and grit, but it’s all spun together by rich and layered electronic beds. The non-organic, digital sounds play into the theme of living life automated, severed from the truest parts of our humanity. With songs like “Savage,” we see the truly exceptional range of techniques Deena is capable of as a vocalist, offering delivery and melody structure that plays into the experience of the lyrics.

The Beast You Feed hinges on “I Won’t Stay Down,” an empowering, bracing call towards hope: “Gotta keep my head up / Gotta fight until it hurts / Part of the process / Hope is in the progress / I’m rising up / Been down and out, but I won’t stay down.” This song serves as the turnaround at rock bottom, as if asking the necessary question: now the pain and dysfunction has been acknowledged, what do we do with it?

“Reckless” answers with an energetic, insistent beat that has had fans dancing at live performances for the past few years. “Dopamine” is a heart-skips-a-beat love song, with quirky instrumentation to match. Continuing to display the versatility of VERIDIA’s musical arsenal, “Perfume” is a sonically slick pop tune, reflecting on the people in our lives who carry an air of infectious joy with the lyrics “I wanna live like you do / Breathin’ love into the room.”

The album closer “I’ll Never Be Ready” has attracted a significant amount of press surrounding the fact that Amy Lee’s Evanescence played piano for the ballad, but here the star power should be far overshadowed by the significance of the story. Deena Jakoub wrote this song while walking with her father through terminal illness, with the song ultimately finding a place at his funeral. When she reached out to invite Amy Lee to provide piano for the track, it was mere months after Amy had lost her own brother. The result is a loving lament that piercingly captures the ache of loss.

As a VERIDIA listener since the days of their 2014 debut EP Inseperable, I feared that I might have set my expectations for their debut album too high. Those qualms were instantly dismissed as The Beast You Feed proves that VERIDIA can consistently deliver intentional musical excellence and a thoughtful, heart-on-your-sleeve approach to lyrics that is instantly arresting. Some of their earlier fans in the rock market may need a moment to mentally adjust to the more electronic-centric sound, but I hope they take that time to do so. What they’ll discover is a gem of an album that explores what it feels like to truly attempt to live life fully, even when it hurts.

You can find The Beast You Feed on iTunes and Spotify.

Related Artists: Halsey, FF5, Icon For Hire

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