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Album Review: AVENGED SEVENFOLD’s ‘Hail To The King’

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Controversy has surrounded Avenged Sevenfold’s latest effort since the Internet first saw guitarist Synyster Gates with short hair.

Then came the chaos surrounding the album artwork, with many claiming that the cover had ripped off Lich King’s “World Gone Dead”.  Sevenfold later changed the album cover.

The single and title track, “Hail to the King” was released to mixed-to-positive reception, with many insisting that the new drummer Arin Ilejay’s work was too simplistic. But M. Shadows insisted that the straightforward drum parts were intentional, because the new record would sound like classic 80s hard rock and heavy metal.

Regardless, the metal world just had to see—rather, hear—how this new album would turn out. It was Sevenfold’s first album with a permanent drummer since Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan passed away in late 2009. Ex-Dream Theater powerhouse Mike Portnoy hit the skins on A7X’s previous work, “Nightmare,” which was a massive hit. How would they follow up?

“Shepherd of Fire” is a very powerful start to the album, possibly even better than the single and title track.  The album starts off with the sound of rain and Synyster Gates’ and Zacky Vengeance’s dual guitar leads and Johnny Christ’s rumbling bass. “Shepherd” is very old school and the Iron Maiden influences are very apparent. Singer M. Shadows was correct when he said the album would have a classic hard rock/metal feel combined with the band’s signature sound.

“Hail To the King,” the first single from this album, is next. Though it has Gates’ and Vengeance’s trademark guitar runs, it lacks the power of the first track. When the single was first released, many complained that the Arin Ilejay’s drum work was too simplistic compared to The Rev’s and Mike Portnoy’s (who played on “Nightmare”). Shadows contended that the straightforward drum parts were intentional and meant to make the record sound more 80s metal influenced. After hearing the first track, this makes more sense in the context of the entire album. The production is magnificently crisp. The song can be heard below.

 

“Doing Time” sounds like a mixture of Black Sabbath and Guns N’ Roses with a “Paranoid”-esque riff and Shadows’ spoken intro. The octave vocal harmonies, Shadows’ nasal delivery, and shrieks are very reminiscent of “Appetite For Destruction” Axl Rose. It is a decent song but lacks panache compared to the other two songs.

Slow, beautiful guitar harmonies open “This Means War”. It then evolves into a powerful mid-tempo anthem, like a combination of two earlier Sevenfold songs, “Welcome to the Family” and “Girl I Know”.  The Iron Maiden influence is also evident in this song, with soaring vocal melodies, cleaner singing, and dueling guitars.  The lyrics are pretty awesome: “There’s nothing here for free – Lost who I want to be / My serpent blood can strike so cold / On any given day – I’ll take it all away / Another thought I can’t control”.

“Requiem” opens with a choir singing Gregorian chant, possibly borrowing from Ghost B.C., who Sevenfold will be touring with later this year. A fragment of this song could be heard in one of the albums previews the band released a few months back. Epic strings compliment Synyster Gate’s leads, making the song sound like a more updated version of something off of Ozzy’s “Diary of a Madman”.

The ballad “Crimson Day” opens with a clean intro, kind of reminding me of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters”.  It is more powerful and poignant than Sevenfold’s best-known ballad, “Seize the Day,” and may even appeal to country audiences. It could be a crossover hit.

“Heretic” takes us back to signature Sevenfold-sounding territory. With rawer production, it would fit right at home on “City of Evil”.  This song showcases how much Shadows has progressed as a singer since then. The acoustic guitar interlude matching underneath the dual guitar riffs remind me of the middle section of Megadeth’s “Reckoning Day”, once again displaying Sevenfold’s 80s metal influences. Synsyter Gates cements his status as a guitar god with this track.

“Coming Home” also wears Iron Maiden influences on its sleeve while still retaining aspects of Sevenfold’s “City Of Evil”-era sound.  We also get to hear some more complex drumming, with Ilejay’s double bass footwork.

“Planets” starts with an interesting drum beat and horns and guitars dancing from the left to right headphones and back, another example of the all the thought that went into the production of this album. The result is an apocalyptic, dissonant, half-thrash-influenced, half-prog thing. It is definitely experimental, even by Sevenfold standards (“A Little Piece of Heaven,” anyone?), and may have to grow on the listener.

“Acid Rain” opens with a piano playing a minor progression of chords. Then dreamy strings kick in, and Synyster plays a very bluesy Slash-sounding solo before Shadows starts singing. It is beautifully melodramatic, almost cabaretish—like if Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky” and Guns N’ Roses’ “November Rain” had a bastard child. Who knows if having a piano-based track close the album will be an ongoing trend for Sevenfold (“Fiction” closed their previous album, “Nightmare”).  If so, it is definitely something to look forward to. The album ends with one of its most memorable songs, but the listener is still left wanting more.

Is “Hail to the King” “City Of Evil 2”? No. It’s far more diverse than that and could seem a tad too overproduced at times.

Is it better than “Nightmare”? Yes and no, depending on your individual taste. It is more experimental, which could appeal to some and turn others off.

Is this album one of the best metal albums of 2013 so far? It is a possible contender, but we’ll have to wait and see.

FINAL VERDICT: 8.5/10

Track listing:

  1. Shepherd Of Fire
  2. Hail To The King
  3. Doing Time
  4. This Means War
  5. Requiem
  6. Crimson Day
  7. Heretic
  8. Coming Home
  9. Planets
  10. Acid Rain
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Album Review: CHILDREN OF BODOM’s “Halo of Blood” (Deluxe Edition)

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Finnish melodeath band Children of Bodom is back with a vengeance, releasing possibly their best album in over a decade. “Halo of Blood” shows how CoB has matured musically while still maintaining their aggression and sense of humor.

“Waste of Skin” and “Halo of Blood” start off the album with an aggressive one-two punch, where the keyboards take somewhat of a backseat. Alexi Laiho screams over machine gun drums and melodic dual guitar riffs. Whereas “Waste of Skin” makes one nod and say, “Yep, this is Bodom,” “Halo of Blood” seems too busy at times with its very syncopated rhythms (possibly a drummer’s wet dream).

“Scream for Silence” takes the speed down a notch, but nicely. The keyboards are more noticeable in this song than in the previous two, which lacked a keyboard solo. Interesting lead harmonies complement intense lyrics like, “If you need to feed on pain, you might as well tap my vein.” This track is probably the most radio-friendly of the album and would have made a better single than “Transference”. It ends with a nice Slayer-esque guitar riff and people chanting “Kill! Kill!” Very Bodom indeed.

“Transference” was the choice for the first single of the album. While it still has the elements that differentiate CoB from other bands (chromatic guitar and keyboard runs, leads complementing Laiho’s vocals), it is just ok. It is probably, musically, the simplest song on the album, and that may have been a factor as to why it was chosen as the lead single.

“Bodom Blue Moon” and “The Days Are Numbered” both sound like they could have come straight off “Hatebreeder” (1999). They both possess hypnotic keyboards and are technical eargasms, with the latter possessing more neoclassical elements. Lyrics like, “Your name on my blade I won’t erase / Until I get to cut my name on your face” would make metalheads proudly nod and say, “F**k yeah” to themselves.

“Dead Man’s Hand on You” is definitely the most experimental track on the album, sounding more akin to Marilyn Manson than CoB at the beginning. Laiho doesn’t even scream on this one at the start and is accompanied by acoustic guitars and a piano. But the lyrics, about a twisted proposal to the goddess Mother Kali, showcase CoB’s sense of humor quite nicely: “I’ll be more than just a dead man’s hand on you… Love me one more time and I’ll let you kill me too.”

The last three tracks, “Damaged Beyond Repair,” “All Twisted,” and “One Bottle and a Knee Deep,” all sound like they could be on “Follow the Reaper”. “All Twisted” in particular has a “Hate Me!” vibe and similar riff work.

“Sleeping in My Car” is a Roxette cover and the bonus track on this edition of the album. (What is Children of Bodom without covering pop songs and making them metal?) It is a suitable end to “Halo of Blood,” because this album encompasses elements of CoB’s entire discography, including humorous covers. Instead of Roxette sweetly crooning, “The night is so pretty and so young,” the refrain sounds like it was uttered by a drunken vampire in Bodom’s version. The song ends with the solo from Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'”.

The “Making of” DVD (the second disc) is a nice treat. The viewer gets to see the band fooling around in the studio, but also witness just how self-deprecating these incredible musicians and their crew can be. At one point, the producer exclaims, “Finally this band has a good bass sound!”

“Halo of Blood” is a great album that will definitely please the Hate Crew. It is their best work in years.

FINAL VERDICT: 8.5/10

Track listing:
1. Waste of Skin
2. Halo of Blood
3. Scream for Silence
4. Transference
5. Bodom Blue Moon (the second coming)
6. The Days Are Numbered
7. Dead Man’s Hand on You
8. Damaged Beyond Repair
9. All Twisted
10. One Bottle and a Knee Deep
11. Sleeping in My Car (Roxette cover) (Bonus Track)


Album Review: BLACK SABBATH’s ’13’ (2-Disc Deluxe Edition)

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13. The number is loaded with superstition, taboo, and mystery. Its unlucky reputation has enamored metal bands since the genre’s inception.

Black Sabbath has had an arguably unlucky journey during the creation of this album. The band officially reunited with all four original members (Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward) on 11/11/11. Drummer Bill Ward left due to financial concerns. Guitarist Tony Iommi was diagnosed with lymphoma. Singer Ozzy Osbourne’s son, Jack Osbourne, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Osbourne, after being sober for approximately five years, relapsed and his marriage to Sharon Osbourne was allegedly falling apart.

Fans worried whether the metal pioneers would be able to deliver. Forums became battlefields, with one side crying out “No Bill, no Sabbath!” as the other side clutched onto their old copies of “Paranoid” and “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” for dear life, secretly hoping their heroes would not disappoint them.

So Sabbath recruited Rage Against the Machine drummer Brad Wilk to sit on Bill Ward’s stool, and they charged forward to create “13,” an instant classic that fits right at home with the rest of their Ozzy-fronted discography.

The ironically-named “End of the Beginning” starts the album off with your standard Sabbath doominess, both musically and lyrically. Like the rest of this album, it sounds like a blast from the past, with Ozzy crooning thought-provoking lyrics over Tony Iommi’s simplistic but powerful riff work and Geezer Butler’s rumbling bass. The song debuted on the season finale of “CSI” last month. It would have made a better choice for a single than “God is Dead?”, the next track on the album.

 

“God Is Dead?” is the second track and the first single released from this album. The music video was released yesterday and caused a ruckus on the Internet, with overly-religious people complaining about the song’s offensive title. Osbourne was inspired to write the song after seeing the phrase on the cover of a magazine and thinking about how many people have died in the name of religion (although he does not believe God is dead). The single clocks in at 9 minutes and sometimes seems too long, even for Sabbath. But it still has their classic sound and was given mostly positive reviews on its release.

The first thing that pops into my head when I hear the intro riff of “Loner” is “N.I.B.” I literally expect Ozzy to shout “oh yeah!” in between verses. Brad Wilk is good at channeling Bill Ward’s drumming style, knowing exactly when and what to do with his drum fills and using the toms at the precise moment.

“Zeitgeist” is 13’s “Planet Caravan”. mellow acoustic vibe, spacey phaser effects on Ozzy’s vocals, and exotic percussion. Osbourne sings about traveling on a space ship that eventually crashes. It’s like listening to a cleaner version of something left over from the “Paranoid” sessions, like if Sabbath had recorded this in 1971, but with our technology.

“Live Forever” starts off as another slow, early Sabbath-sounding song before the drums kick in with “Fairies Wear Boots”-type riffage. The lyrics still play on Sabbath’s signature “Heaven and Hell” themes, but also remind the listener of the band’s mortality. (“I don’t wanna live forever / But I don’t wanna die / I may dreaming, but whatever/ I live inside a lie.”) All the current members outlived singer Ronnie James Dio (who was part of Sabbath from: 1979-82, 1991-92, 2007). Iommi recorded the album while being treated for cancer, and Osbourne went back on drugs. It serves as a stark reminder that “13” *may* be this band’s last album (although they entertained the possibility of recording a follow-up). As I listened to this song, I thought, “Oh shit. These guys are still human,” something we often forget when we think of our heroes, musical and otherwise.

In “Damaged Soul,” Ozzy breaks out the harmonica, adding extra doom to another classic Sabbath-sounding song. Some of the lyrics rank right up there with “Hand of Doom”: “I don’t mind dying cause I’m already dead / Pray not for the living, I’ll live in your head / Dying is easy, it’s living that’s hard / I’m losing the battle between Satan and God.” Iommi nails it again, over Butler’s rumbling bass and Wilk’s spot-on drum fills. This is everything that is great about Sabbath compressed into one song.

“Dear Father” is the final track on the standard edition of the album. it is heavier than the rest of “13,” both musically and lyrically. It has strange time changes and discordant arpeggios, reminding one of Ozzy’s “Diary of a Madman” in parts. There are unexpected key and mood changes at the end. The lyrics come full-circle to the first track most people have heard from this album, “God is Dead?”: “Your molestations of the cross you defiled / A man once holy now despised and reviled… Dear Father forsaken, you knew what you were doing / In silence your violence has left me in ruin.” These should also be placed in the top tier of Ozzy-fronted Sabbath lyrics.

At this point, I’ve been listening to this album for 50 minutes. Unlike other albums, I was not constantly wondering, “how many songs are left?” or “I’m not sure if I like this or not”. I was actually sad that “13” was drawing to a close.

I blasted it on my iPhone and excitedly ran to the living room, proudly proclaiming to the rest of the household, “THIS is Sabbath!”

Then commences the second disc, with the three bonus tracks.

“Methademic” sounds like “Bark at the Moon”-era Ozzy, but with Sabbath acting as the band, if that makes any sense. It sounds newer than the other songs on the album, definitely more 1980s and than 1970s. Perhaps it is best that it was left off the standard edition of the album due to its different vibe, but it’s a good song nonetheless.

“Peace of Mind” is another classic Sabbath song, with the lyrics possibly referencing the events the band went through during the recording of this album: “I wish somebody would empty my head / I am so sorry for the things that I’ve said / This hopeless feeling that’s living inside / I’m just a lonely soul who’s trying to find some peace of mind.”

“Pariah” starts off as another slow-to-mid-tempo doomy song but has the coolest riff of the album. It is slightly more complex than the riffs on the rest of “13,” showing how the band has matured while still keeping most of the elements of their signature sound. It would have been a suitable ending to the standard release, and is another case of, “why didn’t they put it on the regular CD?”

Whether or not “13” is Sabbath’s final album, it is an instant classic. Musically, it feels like you were teleported back into the 1970s, as if they simply picked up where they left off with Ozzy–but had gotten ahold of today’s recording technology. This album shows why these men are the kings of heavy metal. An instant classic that fits nicely between “Paranoid” and “Volume 4”.

FINAL VERDICT: 9/10

Track Listing:

Disc 1
1. End of the Beginning
2. God is Dead?
3. Loner
4. Zeitgeist
5. Age of Reason
6. Live Forever
7. Damaged Soul
8. Dear Father

Disc 2
1. Methademic
2. Peace of Mind
3. Pariah


Album Review: MEGADETH “Super Collider” Deluxe Edition (2013)

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Before I begin this review, let me make my biases known.

I am a major-league Megadeth fan. I am a card-carrying member of the Megadeth Cyber Army. If you look at the “about” page of this blog, you will see me happily nestled between the two MegaDaves, singer/guitarist Dave Mustaine and bassist David Ellefson.

Naturally, I was very excited about the release of the band’s latest effort, Super Collider.

With Super Collider, you can’t just say something like, “It’s Cryptic Writings-meets-Th1rt3en” and be accurate. SC is truly a culmination of all things ‘Deth, with some flashbacks to their thrashier days, elements of their more melodic and experimental albums like Risk, and the newer 2000s material. If you were expecting Rust in Peace II, you will be disappointed. But if you approach it with an open mind, you might be pleased.

SC kicks off with “Kingmaker”, which was released as a single approximately two weeks ago. It renewed people’s faith in Super Collider after so many had been disillusioned by the previous single, the 70s-road-trip-rock title track. “Kingmaker” is like a cross between Black Sabbath’s “Children of the Grave” and ‘Deth’s own “Sweating Bullets,” a tribute to the band’s own musical heritage while adding the thrash elements Megadeth have become known for.

Then comes the infamous “Super Collider,” in a very stark contrast to the opening song. For those who haven’t heard it, it sounds more like Foghat than Megadeth. It’s a middle-of-the-road hard rock song that doesn’t really go anywhere. Mustaine revealed that the band filmed a humorous music video to promote the lead single, and perhaps his intention behind the song will be known once the video is released.

The title “Burn!” sounds like Mustaine’s yell in “Take No Prisoners,” but the song itself is an average rocker, with a chorus that feels more at home in a KISS, Motley Crüe, or even a disco song (“Burn, baby burn… ’cause it feels so good”).

“Built For War” is definitely the worst song on the album, maybe even Megadeth’s worst song, period. Meme Theater posted a review of the album right after it leaked, and their critique of this track says it all:

“…it feels like there was Megadeth playing a toned down Megadeth song in one room while Dave Mustaine sings an unrelated melody and lyrical arrangement in another room, while a 2ND DAVE MUSTAINE stood in yet another separate room in said ‘Built for War!’ at random times, as bored as possible…”

“Off the Edge” has a very nice, dark intro and segues into an average metal song but with sub-par lyrics, at least for Megadeth (“Lately, it seems the world is going crazy / It won’t be long till they replace me / And nothing seems to faze me, anymore”). Think of “Fast Lane” from Th1rt3en, but with worse lyrics.

“Dance in the Rain” is the turning point of this album. David Draiman (Disturbed, Device) lends songwriting and guest vocals to this amazing song, which is one of Megadeth’s best since Youthanasia. The song is about American politicians/government taking advantage of We The People as we struggle to make ends meet. It reminds me why I love Megadeth in the first place: chugging guitar rhythms, Shawn Drover’s fast feet at the double bass drums, Chris Broderick’s wailing leads perfectly complementing Dave Mustaine’s eternally stark lyrics. The song starts off slow and progressively speeds up, eventually ripping into a blazing riff and brutal drums backing Draiman’s powerhouse vocals. It would be right at home on United Abominations or Endgame.

“Beginning of Sorrow” is another good , somewhat slow song with heavy lyrical content, about a neglected child. Mustaine’s daughter Electra contributes some backing vocals.

“The Blackest Crow” is one of the most anticipated songs on this album, since video previews on the band’s website showed instruments like a banjo, fiddle, and slide guitar being used. There were also talks of country legend Willie Nelson guesting on this track. Though Nelson did not appear, the song does its hype justice, serving as a strange but pleasant bridge between bluegrass and heavy metal.

Mustaine wrote “Forget To Remember” about his mother-in-law, who has Alzheimer’s disease. Though it is an upbeat song for Megadeth, the lyrics are some of their most poignant: “If this is living, what the hell is living for? / You’ve boarded up your eyes, your mind has locked the door”. Broderick’s fills and Mustaine’s voice are beautifully in sync, with the fogginess of some of Mustaine’s vocal lines possibly representing the fogginess of the woman’s memory. This is definitely a highlight of the album, though it is more radio-friendly than most Deth fans are used to.

“Don’t Turn Your Back…” starts off with an impressive bluesy guitar solo and progresses into a badass riff, then into a poppy chorus with more cheesy lyrics (“The best advice I can lend is / Don’t ever turn your back on a friend”). Kinda My Little Pony for Megadeth, even though the musical elements are fantastic.

Though “Cold Sweat” is a Thin Lizzy cover, ironically, it is one of the most Megadeth-sounding songs on the album. Great cover that sounds at home on Endgame.

“All I Want”, the first bonus track, has a vibe similar to Th1rt3en’s “Wrecker” and has obvious KISS influences in the lyrics (“We took off on a rocket ride”). Decent medium-tempo metal song.

“A House Divided” should have been released on all versions of the album. It is truly a shame that it is only available on the deluxe edition. It has an interesting trumpet intro by Bob Findley (who played on Megadeth’s “Silent Scorn”), and like “Dance in the Rain,” reminds me why I’m a fan of this band. Once again, Mustaine sings about injustice (“This is a sad day for violence / When speech results in silence”) as gang vocals creepily chant “We all know something’s wrong” in the background. It gave me goosebumps. It is a suiting finale to the new material.

The final track is a live version of “Countdown to Extinction,” recorded in Pomona, Calif. in December of last year. It is a preview of Megadeth’s next CD/DVD release, Countdown to Extinction Live, which should come out this fall.

Super Collider is just one of those albums that is so different, it has to grow on you. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen it called “Risk II”. But the truth is, there are so many different elements on SC, you can’t compare it to one single item in the Megadeth catalogue. It stands alone.

Final verdict: 7/10

Track Listing:
1. Kingmaker
2 .Super Collider
3. Burn!
4. Built For War
5. Off The Edge
6. Dance In The Rain
7. Beginning Of Sorrow
8. The Blackest Crow
9. Forget To Remember
10. Don’t Turn Your Back…
11. Cold Sweat (Thin Lizzy cover)
12. All I Want (Bonus Track)
13. A House Divided (Bonus Track)
14. Countdown To Extinction (Live In Pomona, CA) (Bonus Track)


Album Review: Stone Sour – ‘House of Gold and Bones Part 2’ (2013)

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Release Date: April 9, 2013

Label: Roadrunner Records

Earlier today, Stone Sour streamed the sequel to their chart-topping album “House of Gold and Bones Part 1” (2012). Though “House of Gold and Bones Part 2” won’t officially be released in the States until next week, I am reviewing it now.

It’s been a long time since I’ve listened to an album that has genuinely kept me entertained the whole way through. When I heard HOGAB Pt. 2, I didn’t find myself looking back at the track list every so often, wondering, “Just how many songs are there left?” It is a fantastic album and fitting sequel to Part 1 with its schizophrenic time and style changes, sometimes during single songs.

HOGAB is singer Corey Taylor’s brainchild–two concept albums and a 4-part comic book miniseries about temptation and vice. The music itself is a representation of the conflicts the protagonist, Human, endures. It brings the lyrics to life, and the theme continues through Part 2.

Part 2 starts off with a melancholy piano ballad, “Red City”. It is quite the departure from “Last of the Real,” the final track of Part 1. But during the second track, “Black John,” thrashing drums kick in, signalling the alternative metal tour de force that is the rest of the album. “Sadist” is a slower, groove metal-esque number with chromatic riffs akin to Ozzy’s “Diary of a Madman”.”Peckinpah” is another grooving number, but the next song, “Stalemate,” is one of the highlights of HOGAB 2.

“Stalemate” starts off as an acoustic ballad with piano flourishes, and one assumes that it will be similar to the first track. But suddenly the electric guitars and drums kick in and you wonder what the hell just hit you. You just got your ass kicked and now your neck is broken from headbanging so much. Then there’s a key change to throw you another curveball.

In addition to hard rocking tracks like “’82,” “Do Me A Favor” and “House of Gold and Bones,” HOGAB 2 has its share of powerful ballads. While still heavy, “The Uncanny Valley” and “The Configuration” would do well in mainstream or crossover charts. “The Configuration” reminds me why 80s metal power ballads so great (Skid Row bassist Rachel Bolan, who contributed to this album, should know). It would be wise for Stone Sour to release it as a single.

This album showcases why Stone Sour is so great. The lyrics are very relatable, telling tales of adversity, self-doubt and self-empowerment. They actively troll their listeners with their musical epicness and make you go, “what the hell just happened?” You’re not sure what hit you, but it is well worth the bruise you’re left with.

Track Listing:

  1. Red City
  2. Black John
  3. Sadist
  4. Peckinpah
  5. Stalemate
  6. Gravesend
  7. ’82
  8. The Uncanny Valley
  9. Blue Smoke
  10. Do Me A Favor
  11. The Configuration
  12. House of Gold and Bones

Lineup:

Corey Taylor – vocals

James Root – guitar

Josh Rand – guitar

Roy Moyarga – drums

Rachel Bolan – bass

CORRECTION (4/6/13): Human is the protagonist of the story, not Allen.