|Musical Style: Hard Rock||Produced By:|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin:|
|Year Released: 2016||Artist Website: Dan Cummins|
|Tracks: 13||Rating: 85%|
|Running Time: 79:31|
What’s the advantage of being an overachiever in a hard music scene where excellence isn’t always rewarded with sales? Well, artistic credibility is a good place to start, particularly as it pertains to staying true to ones art and committing yourself to creating a quality work, regardless of the musical trends of the time or what happens to be FM radio flavor of the month. Garnering the respect and devotion of fans and critics alike counts for every bit much, at least when factoring loyalty of the former (are there any more passionate fans than those within metal and hard rock circles?) and high standards to the latter (whom understand and recognize said excellence when they see it). Finally, there is simply making music for the love of music, the music buying public and FM radio be-damned!
If an example exists of an artist that captures said excellence - and the creditability, respect and devotion, and love of music that goes hand in hand - it would have to be vocalist and guitarist Dan Cummins. Cummins is a proven veteran of the scene whom many will recall from his work in Delorean, a Chapel Hill, North Carolina based act with two albums to its credit in full-length debut Dauntless from 2004 and follow up sophomore effort Edge Of Existence released in 2010. Subsequent to the demise of Delorean, Cummins joined Hickory Switch, a local cover/party band that specializes in modern country, classic rock, and danceable hits from multiple decades, in addition to pursuing a solo career. Independently releasing his debut solo album Leviathan in 2012, the artist followed up in October of 2016 with his most recent solo offering Storm (also independent) in which he collaborates with Delorean drummer Adam Satterwhite.
Putting together a review of Storm gave me opportunity to revisit Dauntless, an 80% Angelic Warlord reviewed album that “takes a foundation of progressive rock and combines it with elements of classic hard rock and metal” while placing emphasis on “catchy and melodic based songwriting”. When placed alongside Dauntless, Storm conveys more of a straightforward hard rock feel but with added variety in the form of periodic AOR, blues, metal, modern rock and progressive touches. It also reflects Cummins’ penchant for creating a high volume of music, noting how similar to Leviathan, Storm features 13 songs, the majority of which are in excess of 5 minutes each including a closing epic over 12 minutes.
Where Cummins’ solo material further separates itself from Delorean is from how it also gives him opportunity to handle lead vocals with a gritty and grainy mid-paced style in perfect step with the hard rocking nature to the music at hand. No better track better exemplifies this than opener “Tempest”, five churning minutes of momentum in which a brooding moodiness and hard-hitting riff proclivity collide to establish a blues influenced setting. Do I detect a faint hint of Kinetic Faith era Bride? What one cannot question is how the song (similar to much of the Storm material) makes a generous instrumental statement with several minutes of its length adorned by the artist’s tasteful soloing abilities.
In a similar vein but heavier is “Revolution”. This one gives rise to more of a metal-based feel, heightened with its pensive riff action (that dominates front to back) but provoking in terms of the abrading rhythm section (lending to the heaviness at hand). “Hyperventilate” stays the metal course. Playing up the faster heading, the song delivers albums most aggressive guitars and joins them with one of those subtle but persuasive melodies that refuse to recede with repeat listen.
“Step Back” and “Remnants” prove every bit guitar focused but play up an angry sentiment in line with the albums concept (more on this later). “Step Back” roars out of the gate to guitar feedback followed by pounding riffs, impassioned in terms its distorted bass presence and contentious flair throughout. Cummins delivers another fantastic lead guitar run to close out the song. “Remnants” aligns the melodic and heavy, highlighting perhaps albums strongest blues driven chorus but allowing for the same snarling guitars intrinsic to the better material here. Satterwhite sets a forceful tone with his precise timekeeping abilities.
Cummins doesn’t flex his muscles the albums entire length in that he can exhibit a melodic side to his songwriting as well. Consider “Stardust” in this regard, almost airy with reserved guitar harmonies that touch upon a modern quality while mixing acoustic guitars and moody bass. The accessibility at hand strains for the commercial. “The Weak End” also takes a melodic hard rock stance but with interwoven with further melancholic tendencies. Bass plays a more pronounced role, aligning with emphatic guitars that stand in support of the tough as nails refrain.
Artist can also do the ballad thing as well as anyone. “Eye On me” shines with its semi-ballad leanings, as the lighter guitars that buttress its verses maneuver to a more prominent place in the mix for the heartfelt refrain. Again, I appreciate the commercial feel at hand. “Broken” receives the AOR power ballad treatment. The song underscores an emotional essence, driven by reserved guitars its length (at least in comparison to some songs here) in touching upon bluesy territory while allowing Cummins to exhibit the full range to his voice.
The two Storm instrumental tracks rank with my favorites. “Hypomania” resonates a cool jam-fusion-jazzy feel with a ton of catchy guitar harmonies and several stretches of emotional lead guitar work. A bouncing and mirthful feel tops things off. “Triage” proves the fastest of the pair with a classic eighties Satriani shred vibe in which melodic riffs galore converge with a frenetic low end (Satterwhite underlines things with some crisp double bass). To say that the two allow Cummins to showcase his abundant licks and chops would be an understatement.
The instrumental penchant carries over on to the Storm progressive material. Extensive portions to the seven-minute “Pendulum” are instrumental, including the calm acoustic opening and three-minute stretch at the end in which brazen soloing and hard rock riffing contest. In between, the song transitions between gentler melodic based moments (in which the acoustic basis returns) and others that take a more decisive tone (as heavy-duty guitars rebound to a place of prominence).
Storm closes to twelve-minute magnum opus “Arrival” in similar fashion how the new Theocracy album, Ghost Ship, ends to the epic “Easter”. The song heads in a melodic rock mixed with AOR tinctured direction, heartfelt with its earthy and easy-going verses but elevated for the warm and fuller feel of the elevated refrain. As one might imagine, significant portions to the song are instrumental, with its first minute and a half ranging from the ethereal to dogged, but also a generous break at the midway point carried by ardent soloing.
Storm represents another album that proves independent artists can achieve quality production. The bass enhanced low end particularly stands out as does the balanced guitar mix, whether rhythm, acoustic or lead. While more observation as opposed to critique, a further layering effect might have been achieved if the artist had blended some tasteful keyboards such as piano (for the lighter material) or Hammond B3 (that taking a heavier direction).
As noted, Storm is a conceptual work that (per the artists press material) proves autobiographical in terms of being ‘written during a personal journey through some tough times with relationships, mental illness, doubts, faith, etc’. He goes on to further note that ‘while not an overtly religions work, the themes are heavily influenced by my Christian worldview’.
Traditionally, it is not my policy not to go into too much detail about lyrics on concept albums for fear of giving away the storyline, but I feel it is sufficient to say they take the listener through a journey consisting of the storms of life and pain, grief, hardship, anger and disappointment that go hand in hand. In the end, however, there is also growing through said trials and the ultimate faith, hope and forgiveness that play every bit as much a role. Credit the artist for not glossing things over or beating around the bush in that one cannot help but respect the forthright and candid natures of his prose as he writes from personal experience. “The Weak End” sums things up best in this regard:
Forgiveness in moments when I have no cheeks to turn
Sympathy when I see the fire in which we burn
Powerful, invincible when I muster the strength to kneel
In love with the clever twist that meekness makes me strong
It might be tempting to suggest that Storm is long-winded in featuring 13 songs and nearly 80 minutes of music, and that the artist should have cut the album by 2 to 3 songs. I beg to differ, however, in that the albums quality does not suffer despite the wealth of material it encompasses. Besides, which tracks do you cut when they all hold up under repeat play? In putting myself in the artist’s shoes, if I had written a high volume of good songs I would want to record them all as well.
Lending to the albums continuity is how it presents with adequate variety in the form of heavier to lighter to faster to slower to longer to shorter material. That said, it was my experience that Storm took a bit of time to grow on me, with 3 to 4 spins being sufficient. The album, nevertheless, proves well worth the time and effort as a strong example of hard rock and metal with recurrent leanings towards the progressive.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Tempest” (5:15), “Eye On Me” (5:01), “Revolution” (5:46), “Hyperventilate” (5:37), “Pendulum” (7:23), “Step Back” (5:32), “Hypomania” (5:00), “Broken” (5:41), “Remnants” (4:49), “Triage” (4:46), “Stardust” (5:42), “The Weak End” (6:10), “Arrival” (12:42)
Dan Cummins - Lead Vocals, Guitars & Bass
Adam Satterwhite - Drums