Heavy Alternative Rock

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Heavy Alternative Rock, also known as Alternative Hard Rock, is a catch-all sub-genre used to encompass the various alternative rock artists that play heavy music that don't necessarily descend, at least directly, from the traditional hard rock spectrum. It notably includes grunge and post-grunge bands, both of which can be heavy but of a different heritage to traditional blues based hard rock acts, but it may also include actual hard rock acts and releases that borrow heavily from alternative rock to create a fusion sound. Some examples of this include Nickelback (hard rock/post-grunge), Dizzy Mizz Lizzy (hard rock/alternative rock) and Foo Fighters (hard rock/alternative rock/post-grunge), at least on some releases, such as Wasting Light (2011).

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Album · 2018 · Heavy Alternative Rock
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siLLy puPPy
After “Blackjazz,” SHINING got increasingly more commercial by jettisoning its prog and jazz complexities after adopting a heavier extreme metal style with vocals but after that high note that caught the world’s avant-garde metal and prog communities by storm, this Norwegian band led by Jørgen Munkeby seemed to be going for a crossover appeal that would hopefully thrill alternative metalheads and hard rockers worldwide. By the time we get to the band’s eighth studio album ANIMAL everything progressive and jazz had been totally abandoned and even the metal was tamped down in order to make a watered down form of alternative heavy rock that sounded more like heavier versions of the Stone Temple Pilots or Foo Fighters than anything that came before.

ANIMAL was recorded by the same lineup as “International Blackjazz Society” except that it added bassist Ole Vistnes who replaced Tor Egil Kreken. Most surprisingly of all is that the famous saxophone squawking that had been one of the few common denominators starting with the early post-bop albums and through the experimental King Crimson inspired prog era had been completely dropped for the first time leaving a completely jazz-free album that was focused on the more commercial side of alternative and industrial rock. Gone too are Munkeby’s frenetic Marilyn Manson vocals (for the most part) and replaced by cleaner bad boy band style parts. It goes without saying that SHINING was not interested in pleasing prog and avant-garde crowds any longer and wanted to make some ca$H.

Some tracks like “Fight Song” sound a bit like if Soundgarden hooked up with Muse but ultimately comes off as a cheap imitation rather than something either original or interesting even as pop rock. The album features nine tracks and plays for 38 minutes while featuring one of the least diverse albums of the band’s career although there are a few slow numbers amongst the rather by the numbers hard-hitting alternative rock guitar riff fueled tunes. For anyone who thought that SHINING’s inspiration was limitless, ANIMAL will prove that even a once highly creative and fertile wellspring of ideas can suddenly dry up when hair brained ideas of commercial crossover potential creeps into the picture.

Who’s to say why Munkeby steered the band in this direction. There are many reasons artists go for a more commercial direction and some of them may be quite legit but when it comes to actual execution on ANIMAL, all i can is that this is a very hard one to sit through as it’s completely devoid of inspiration and about as canned as it gets. It reminds me of some of the prog bands of the late 70s that grasped for straws to see if they could fit in with the pop hits of the day but even Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s “Love Beach” sounds like a classic masterpiece in comparison to this limp biscuit. This is one to be avoided at all costs even if you happen to love commercial leaning alternative rock. This is just shamefully bad in about every possible way. Will Munkeby pull off another inventive move to revive SHINING’s sagging career? It’s anyone’s guess but if ANIMAL is any indication, SHINING’s moment has long expired.


Album · 2008 · Heavy Alternative Rock
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siLLy puPPy
AYURVEDA existed from 2003-2011 and was from Ithica, New York and consisted of Tom Burchinal (vocals and keys), Diwas Gurung (guitar and vocals), Shikhar R. Bajracharya (guitar), Dan Halperin (bass and laptop) and Mike Parker (drums). The band’s name which refers to the Vedic branch of knowledge most associated in the West as a healing system actually comes from Sanskrit and means “the knowledge of life.” This name was chosen because of the band members focusing on personal spiritual practices as well as having an ancestry from the Himalayan nation of Nepal.

The band released two EPs and four albums under the nam e AYURVEDA but also released a fifth album titled “Rato Mato” which was basically a collection Nepalese folk songs adopted to alternative rock but for some reason was released under guitarist Diwas Gurung’s name perhaps to set it apart from the main band’s established sound that was heavily focused on 90s alternative heavy rock with a mix of sounds from bands like Stone Temple Pilots and a lot of Tool. BEING was AYURVEDA’s first full-length album that was released in 2008.

BEING features 13 tracks with most hovering around the 4 minute mark and a few exceeding past 6. AYURVEDA may not be a household name but found regional success and embarked on regular touring schedules. The band was helped by the fact that it worked with producer Alex Perialas who worked on many albums from bands like Anthrax, Testament and Bad Brains. AYURVEDA’s sound has ben described as Tool meets Radiohead with a bit of Led Zeppelin, Beatles and Pink Floyd thrown however unlike the darkened themes of 90s alternative metal bands AYURVEDA focused on spiritual and uplifting themes.

While Tool is certainly the main influence here, the band is less heavy than its LA counterparts and instead delivers more of a Tool lite approach however stylistically it borrows not only those distinct chugging repetitive riffs but the tribal percussion and vocal counterpoints. For some this may come across as too close to the original source but in comparison to other Tool inspired bands like Soen, AYURVEDA somehow works for me on an enjoyability level however there is never a doubt from whence inspiration was derived. The opening track “Universal Mind” was released as a video.

Perhaps not the most original band at this point yet AYURVEDA delivered a polished and professional sounding debut album. While BEING still dwelled a bit too heavy in the Tool department, it’s is different enough to at least warrant investigation. Having more succinct tracks as opposed to Tool’s progressive sprawlers allowed AYURVEDA to construct tighter songs that didn’t outstay their welcome. Despite a job well done, BEING does suffer from copycat syndrome and prevents this album from being essential in any way but for anyone interested in Tool influenced bands, this one is surely worthy of consideration.


Album · 1994 · Heavy Alternative Rock
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Some albums evoke a specific season. The likes of Loreena McKennitt or Immortal nail the winter's cold, The Chemical Brothers' Surrender and The Crystal Method's Tweekend reflect two sides of a sunny summer, and lots of grunge as well as alt rock bands like R.E.M. and The Tragically Hip bring to mind my favorite season of autumn. For a while though, I didn't know what was the sound of spring, but after a nice night of listening, I'd say Stone Temple Pilots' Purple will be my go-to spring album.

I don't quite know how to explain it, but there's something about Purple that just makes me think of a nice brisk spring day and a time of fresh life. The blend of meaty grunge, bright alt rock, and bittersweet psych rock all come together to create a sound that is simultaneously relaxing, heavy, pretty, and with a slight tinge of melancholy for those rainy days.

Some of my favorite songs include Vasoline, Pretty Penny, Silvergun Superman, Unglued, and closer Kitchenware & Candybars. These all give a good example of the varied moods and styles, with some combining multiple sides of the band. Pretty Penny and Unglued stick to one sound, and perfect them. The former is a beautiful semi-acoustic piece and the latter being a complete contrast by hard-hitting grunge with insanely catchy guitar screeches. On the other hand Silvergun Superman contrasts crushing riffs with serene alt/psych rock segments, and the melancholic Kitchenware & Candybars is a perfect wandering finale with what sounds like a string section and building up to a heavy finish.

The pure grunge of the band's debut Core is great too, but Purple really showed STP craft a unique sound for themselves and created a wonderful album for seasonal spring listening.


Album · 2011 · Heavy Alternative Rock
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2011’s ‘Here and Now’ is the seventh studio album by Canadian rockers Nickelback, and yep, you guessed it, it’s similar to their previous few releases. But is that such a bad thing? The band have sold millions of albums and toured the world over, so they must be doing something right. They have a winning formula and they’ve stuck with it. Radio-friendly enough for the casual listener yet rocking enough for metal fans. Those willing to give the band a chance, that is. As is usually the case by now, the band can be hard and heavy enough for rock fans, yet some softer ballads allow the band to garner radio airplay. The production is top-notch, giving the band a full sound which really makes the rockier songs heavy as hell and gives the soft pop songs a warm, vibrant feel.

The lyrics, as always, range from the usual rock debauchery to more introspective and reflective themes. Sex, women and parties are usually at the top of the bill, but there are themes of unity, suicide and dependence too. For the most part, they’re usually a fine old slab of cheese, but anyone willing to dig a little deeper can see that occasionally the band can have something meaningful or poignant to say.

While Nickelback will never be known specifically for virtuoso musicianship, there’s no denying their penchant for writing catchy and memorable songs, and with beastly guitar riffs and pounding drums aplenty, there’s an abundance of quality material here. The likes of ‘This Means War’, ‘Bottoms Up’, ‘Lullaby’, ‘Kiss It Goodbye’, ‘When We Stand Together’ and ‘Trying Not to Love You’ are all exceptional rock songs that are certainly worth a listen or two. And while ‘Here and Now’ may not be anything groundbreaking or innovative, the truth is, it doesn’t need to be. This is good, quality hard rock at its finest.


Album · 2008 · Heavy Alternative Rock
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By 2008, Nickelback were undoubtedly two things; one of the biggest rock bands on the planet, and also one of the most hated. Despised by metal fans and too heavy for pop fans, Nickelback are one of those bands that have their audience and knows what works for them. And so here, with 2008’s ‘Dark Horse’, we see the band continue to tread safely with what made them one of the biggest bands on the planet.

However, take heed, for “treading safely” doesn’t mean they’re coasting and resting on their laurels, because ‘Dark Horse’ is arguably one of the bands best albums. With consistently strong tracks throughout, this album is brimming with highly energetic rock anthems and catchy, radio-friendly ballads that are incredibly easy to listen to. It’s this simple, yet infectious, songwriting style that make Nickelback so easy to get into.

Of course, haters will hate, but if you give the Canadian quartet a chance, there’re some absolutely solid tracks here that sound great! Driven by heavy, beefy guitar riffs and a thumping rhythm section, Nickelback’s formula is simple, yet, in a world where musical virtuosity is running amok, sometimes you need to strip it all down and stick to the basics. Dirty, raunchy songs with dumb lyrics that primarily focus on love, sex, parties and occasionally a meaningful, introspective ballad, sometimes less really is more.

And this is never more evident with the likes of ‘Something in Your Mouth’, ‘Burn It to the Ground’, ‘Next Go Round’, ‘S.E.X.’, huge hit ‘If Today Was Your Last Day’, ‘Gotta Be Somebody’ and one of my personal favourites, ‘Just to Get High’. With excellent performances by all involved (as always, Chad Kroeger is incredibly underrated as a vocalist), ‘Dark Horse’ is a powerful album packed full of hard rock goodness. Flying by at a brisk 44 minutes, it’s easy to digest and is a great example of why Nickelback shouldn’t be judged merely by their unfair reputation.

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